For the last several years policymakers have struggled to find a way forward regarding long-term energy policy. With every leadership change, energy policy continues to be side-stepped in favor of other economic development initiatives with hopes of creating new jobs. All the while, Missouri’s unemployment remains above 9 percent with no relief in sight.
Missouri’s investor-owned, cooperatives and municipal utility service providers employ tens of thousands of Missourians — among the top employers in the state. The industry follows a successful blueprint allowing Missouri utility consumers to enjoy some of the lowest rates in the country.
Missouri utilities procure over 80 percent (U.S. average is 50 percent) of their energy from coal — imported from other states. Billions of dollars of economic activity and jobs could be created with investment in Missouri-based energy sources. Utility providers agree that there is opportunity for growth in Missouri, but until renewable energy becomes more competitive or the idea of a nuclear plant becomes less “radioactive,” from a business standpoint and a consumer standpoint, the lowest cost means to generate electricity continues to be coal.
Resources continue to be invested in coal technology projects in Missouri and the Midwest. Washington University, with its corporate partners, is spending millions researching clean coal technologies. Just across the river in Illinois is the site of FutureGen2, a massive public-private partnership with plans to re-fire an existing power plant, construct a pipeline and store the carbon emissions underground.
Missouri’s reliance on coal is not without its drawbacks. While enormous investments in air-quality control equipment have dramatically reduced the emissions from power plants, environmentally speaking, coal is far from the cleanest option. The emissions and an aging fleet of power plants (the average plant is about 40 years old) are reason enough to carefully look for alternatives. With strict EPA emissions standards looming, our reliance on coal must be addressed and the sooner the better. Adding to the uncertainty, federal energy legislation currently remains stalled, but reducing carbon emissions is an issue that is not going away.
Efforts to diversify Missouri’s energy portfolio have shown limited success thus far. In 2008, Missouri took a major step, passing Proposition C, which requires investor-owned utilities to obtain 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020 while capping associated rate increases at 1 percent. This passed with overwhelming support of the voters, but almost two years later, the rulemaking process to implement this law continues to be mired in legislative and regulatory debate amongst the stakeholders.
In 2009, Missouri debated building a second nuclear plant. Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future was a major supporter of this concept because such a facility would create thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in economic activity and significantly reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels. The effort to establish a low-cost financing approach to build this facility failed, and Missouri lost a tremendous opportunity.
While rules requiring renewable energy generation in Missouri remain tangled in red tape and a new nuclear plant is stalled indefinitely, Missouri is missing chances to bolster its economy, create new jobs and diversify our energy portfolio.
Even with these setbacks, the energy sector is crucial to Missouri’s economic future. In this difficult economic climate, now is the time to utilize our skilled workforce and invest in our energy future.
Taking steps to upgrade the transmission grid and prepare Missouri’s infrastructure will employ thousands of workers and pour millions of dollars into our economy. Miles of transmission lines could be updated allowing new energy projects to come on line more efficiently.
Multiple states including neighbors Kansas and Illinois have created statewide energy plans to build their economies and prepare for their future energy needs. Missouri political leaders need to engage the public and private sector to devise a comprehensive plan that updates its regulatory framework and removes economic disincentives to encourage businesses small and large to invest in the long-term health of our energy future. We have the tools in front of us — sustaining and diversifying our energy sector helps Missouri employers, and puts Missourians back to work.
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